Furnish your home for free!

As a college student, I was eager to move out of the dorms–but once a friend and I got our new place, neither of us had any money to furnish the place! But over the course of a couple of months, our apartment was filled almost entirely with furniture found for free on the street.

Picking up furniture off of the street need not carry a stigma; chances are it’s totally legal in your area, and it’s a great way to save money and stay green. Whether you’ve found the perfect accent piece for your home on a walk, or if you’re a hobbyist furniture-picker like my friend and I are, here’s some tips on how to easily find furniture on the street that’s safe and clean for bountiful urban “shopping.”

Researching Where to Go & When

If you live in a city, chances are you’ve happened to walk by plenty of furniture on the street–but what about those who don’t live in an urban environment, or who don’t find themselves walking often enough to find these treasure troves? Whether you stumble upon furniture often or no, it’s a good idea to do a little hunting off the street and on the Internet before stepping out the door.

First, look up the trash pickup days for choice neighborhoods. You’re likely to find tossed furniture on these days (or the day before), and you’ll know what areas to search on whichever days you’re free. Whether planning a day of furniture-grabbing, or checking where to start on a spontaneous walk about town, know your trash pickup days!

Live near a college? Check out the dumpsters at the end of term when students move out–you would be amazed at what students throw out, including furnishings that maximize organization.

If you want to plan out your furniture safari ahead of time, also check out your local Craigslist free section for anything that might catch your eye. You won’t find just furniture here, but other knickknacks and things that you might not want to miss. Often people posting these classifieds will do so to let others know something has been dumped onto the street for anyone to take, but sometimes you’ll be able to claim something that’s still in the owner’s home and arrange for a pickup. This is a good resource because it invites communication with the items’ previous owners, which means you don’t have to worry about whether something works, bedbugs or other hazards.

Finally, check if your community has a free store. A free store is a community-organized space where people can drop off whatever they don’t want anymore, and others are invited to take what’s left there. Think of it being a yard sale where everything’s free! You’ll usually find small, easy-to-transport things like clothes or books, but every now and then you can find whole pieces of furniture like desks or chairs. If there’s a free store in your community, be sure to give it a visit!

What to Know When on the Hunt

Remember that you run the risk of bedbugs or dirtiness when picking up furniture off the street. It’s a good rule to take hard-surfaced furniture rather than softer things for this reason, but sometimes it can be worth taking the chance on a good chair or couch–you can judge for yourself whether something soft is worth the risk.

Also be wary of electronics. A free TV is sometimes too good to be true, and often these appliances aren’t in good working condition. It may seem a waste to lug a heavy electronic home only to find that it doesn’t work, but tampering with an appliance that may be defective can be dangerous, too. This applies even to less-flashy electronics–such as lamps–and it’s best to leave anything with a plug on the street, unless a sign says it still works.

Let’s say you’re walking somewhere and find a sofa you must have–but you have no means of transporting it! You need to claim it so it’s not taken by someone else while you’re getting a car. One option is to write “This has bedbugs!” on a piece of paper and attach it to the sofa; another option is to simply take the cushions on your first trek. Both of these will deter others from taking the furniture you want. (Of course, this works for cushioned and soft chairs as well).

No matter what you pick up, remember to give it a good scrub once it’s home! Even if something looks clean, it could have picked up germs or bacteria from the street, outdoor air or adjacent trash. Take the extra time to clean your new furniture so you won’t have to worry later!